Earlier this week I was on my knees, hunched over vacumming the Childrens Stairs. (Yes, our stairs have names, just like our floors have numbers… don’t yours? Otherwise, how do you tell the difference between them? )
We were doing the last minute cleaning we always have to do before a house showing. Our house isn’t actually on the market at the moment, but a particularly insistent realtor managed to convince us to show it anyway. It WAS on the market for a year and a half, but our segment takes time to move, and we got burned out, so we didn’t renew the MLS listing last fall.
My older son came out of his room while I was vacuuming, and said in a theatrical little kid voice something along the lines of "look at the book I gotted!" and held up a large encyclopedia of animals. It was weird in the way that genius is often weird, and charming and wonderful in the way that parents and very close family and friends should implicitly appreciate, but others sometimes don’t.
So here I am, vacuuming, and off trundles my 6 foot +, 18 year old son, pretending to be 4, and all of a sudden two memories hit me like, well, the proverbial ton of bricks.
Memory #1 is of a visit to my great aunt in Boston, with my mother. She had a real chaise lounge (the "slipper couch" or reading couch) which I loved because it was like an antique rocket cockpit chair, and candies in dishes which never tasted very good, but I later figured out tasted expensive.
We always had to call before we came over, which I didn’t understand at the time. The protocol in NH was you just went over and knocked. I remembered my mother scolding me for calling 1st when I discovered the magic of the telephone. Lazy people, it seemed, called first, and we weren’t lazy. So I didn’t get why now we had to call. Life in the city, and great aunts with real lounge chairs, are a different protocol.
On one particular visit – the only one I vividly remember – I was reading LOTR and was obsessed with Gollum. I think this was before the ill-fated Bakshi films, but I’m not 100% sure about that. I did a mean Gollum imitation, and my mother seemed to love my imitations, so whenever I was visiting her in Boston I did them very often and with great gusto, to make her laugh, which she did, as she was often so sad back then.
I had a copy of one of the LOTR books with me, and like any good Great Aunt I’m sure she asked me about it, which lead to a discussion of characters in the book, which lead to Gollum. So I did my Gollum imitation for my Great Aunt, all hunched over and with a raspy lispy voice (and did I mention all hunched over, with my back rolled all up?), and very likely on my hands and feet, as any proper Gollum might walk.
No doubt this was with extra special gusto, as I’m sure I felt the need to really do Gollum proud, what with two women as my audience. I’m sure I was leaping about on the couch and the floor, coming close to shattering lamps and knocking framed black and white pictures of dead men when they were young and in uniform off of narrow ladylike tables. It would have been far too much gusto for a very ancient aunt living in a prim and crowded brownstone on Beacon Hill.
Did I mention that my Great Aunt had a hunched back, and perhaps a somewhat raspy voice?
Memory #2 was when my mother, years later, told me that my Great Aunt thought that I was imitating her. I don’t remember when she told me, but it was after my Great Aunt died, and I remember feeling devastated, over a period of years, as the implications of that event came back to me over and over again. I was never able to talk to my Great Aunt about it as I didn’t find out until after she was dead, although I’m not sure what I would have said. Hopefully something simple, although I am prone to using Extra Words. Likely I could have just read her something from the Globe and told her I loved her, and that would have been enough.
Much much later I realized that it’s at least possible that my Great Aunt didn’t actually think that I was imitating her, that in fact my mother only THOUGHT that my Great Aunt thought that, because my mother was suddenly embarassed.
I know that being a parent is sometimes like that. Sometimes the same thing that makes you laugh and that you want to see when you are sad and need cheering up turns out to be, when you are with other people, so horrifying that you feel compelled to make it stop, even when it’s just your kid being your kid. It’s a different protocol.
Sometimes I bet that it can feel like the pain or embarassment will last until somehow you find a way to get rid of it, or maybe forever.
And sometimes the fact that you really were trying to make people happy, that you were trying to be noble and loving, and you were trying to take people’s minds off of dead men in photos and divorces and coping and cleaning and misery – sometimes that fact is what should really matter.